Tanvi Misra is a staff writer for CityLab covering immigrant communities, housing, economic inequality, and culture. She also authors Navigator, a weekly newsletter for urban explorers (subscribe here). Her work also appears in The Atlantic, NPR, and BBC.
Filmmaker Ely Dagher explores a love-hate relationship with his hometown in this surreal short film.
The animated short film Waves ‘98 is very much about the complicated relationship Lebanese filmmaker Ely Dagher has with his hometown of Beirut. Dagher spent most of his life in the Lebanese capital, with which he has a love-hate relationship. It’s hard not to, he says.
“Beirut is an amazing yet harsh city that's full of contrasts,” Dagher tells CityLab via email. “I’ve had some of the best and worst experiences of my life there.”
The surreal animated film shows the city through the eyes of a teenager named Omar. It begins in 1998, when Omar is living a listless suburban life, yearning for the excitement and promise of Beirut. Once he steps into the city, he finds that along with the magic of city life comes a certain degree of alienation. Eventually, “Omar finds himself struggling to keep his attachments, his sense of home,” the synopsis on the film’s website reads.
The film closely follow’s Dagher’s own experiences. He, too, really discovered the city in 1998, at a time when Beirut embodied the shiny ideals of optimism that followed the Lebanese Civil War. Before that, many parts of the city had been off-limits to him because of “mental borders” left over from the war, he says. The pessimism that he folds into the second half of the film is more recent—a result of the city’s many social and economic ills he’s come to discover.
Beirut, today, struggles in many ways, Dagher explains. First, it’s grappling with its identity as it rebuilds. Some of its historical sites, for example, are under threat of being replaced by glitzy new buildings. And some are already gone, via per the Archeology Institute of America:
In the rush to build during the past decade, Roman ruins were bulldozed, columns were crushed into cement, and piles of ancient debris were relegated to the city dump.
Corruption, lack of enforcement of zoning laws and building regulations for new development, and inadequate public transportation are also problems “pushing the city to breaking point,” Dagher says. Even basic city services, such as trash collection and disposal, aren’t properly being conducted. Regional and global conflicts, too, continue to deal blows to the city.
“There's a constant emotional battle between hope and disillusionment,” Dagher says. “But I guess that's what keeps the people going.”
Waves ‘98 is one of the official selections in the short animated film category at 2016 Sundance Film Festival. It also won a Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival in 2015. Watch the trailer above.